Posted: Nov 18, 2015
Some colleges and universities experience such great success in a given sport, outdistancing its other programs in terms of wins and renown, that the school comes to be associated with that sport. The most well-known example may be Alabama. With its 14 national titles, 'Bama easily qualifies as a "football school." The same is true for Kentucky in basketball. With seven NCAA crowns and an illustrative history, most everyone agrees that the home of the Wildcats is a "basketball school."
And thanks to Paul Pipkin, MACU can be classified as a volleyball school.
From the start, Coach Pipkin's teams let it be known that they were for real. They never lost a game in the Shenandoah-Chesapeake Athletic Conference, winning the championship each season until the program was shuttered for a few years. When it returned, so did Pipkin, and it continued to lead the way as the most successful on-court program in the Mustangs' athletic stable.
What makes it even more impressive is that the teams were made up, not of 5-star recruits, but of players drawn from the student body. "Now MACU has a sports program, we recruit and look for volleyball players," said Pipkin. "But back early on, whoever walked in, there was a sign-up sheet saying there were tryouts on the first night of school (in the fall). I tried not to cut anyone from the team. I didn't always have the best talent, but I had girls who were willing to work hard and play together."
Pipkin says coaching is in his blood. "I coached my first baseball team when I was 13, and I've been doing some sort of coaching all my life…with the girls, it was fun times. For the most part, I was like their dad. They would treat me just like that." Like a fun dad, that is. Outside hitter Paige "Nook" Roberson says Pipkin would join right in on the girl's travel fun, singing and dancing, breaking the boredom of the long road trips.
He's quick to point out that it was about more than wins and losses for him. "MACU is a Christian school. We're there for glorifying God and doing His will to the best of our ability…sometimes a sport is how you can reach people. Not everyone comes to MACU for the Bible classes. Some come for the sports program, and when they're there, that's when you can reach them. That's part of the draw for me.
"The atmosphere at MACU is really great, and so is the support of the staff. Neal Alligood, the AD [Athletic Director], does a fantastic job. We couldn't do what we do without Neal."
But change was in the air. Pipkin's day job is with Energy United, who transferred him to Salisbury, NC this past summer. For many, that would have meant leaving behind the program they had built, and with an athletic department scrambling to find a replacement for the fast-approaching season. But not Pipkin.
"There was at least one player who came back to school because of me," said Pipkin. "She had looked at other schools, and I didn't want to not be there for her." In order to coach one last season, he asked his employers to flex his schedule.
"I really give (Energy United) props. My bosses have been really good. I told them, 'You've got to understand, it isn't just for the games. We've got practice, too.' So we would have practice from 7 to 9 on Monday mornings, then I would drive four hours to work. Someone would help fill in on Tuesdays, then I would come back on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. They would allow me to leave work early enough to do that. Most companies would not have allowed me to do that."
The Pipkin Era officially ended Saturday, October 24 with the Mustangs' final game of the season at Laurel. Pipkin says he had already talked to Alligood about looking for another coach before he was transferred, feeling the program needed someone who could devote more time to it that he was able to do. But it remains to be seen whether the next coach can have the same positive impact that Paul Pipkin has had over eight seasons, regardless of the number of hours he or she puts in.
The search has begun for his replacement, but it could take some time to find the right fit for MACU.
After all, it is a volleyball school.